Pike introduces Safer Schools Act

Bill would allow authorized employees to carry concealed firearms on school grounds

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Rep. Liz Pike

State Rep. Liz Pike of Camas has proposed a bill to allow firearms on school grounds.

House Bill 1788, the Safer Schools Act, would allow both public and private schools to adopt a policy authorizing employees to possess firearms under certain conditions, as part of an adopted school safety plan.

“Recent massacres at ‘gun free zones’ in public schools prompted me to start a broad community discussion about how we can make our schools more safe in Washington,” said Pike, a republican. “This law, if passed, would give school boards the authority to add more flexibility in making their schools safe.”

Her first choice would be placing school resource officers in every school.

“Not all school districts can afford the high cost of this option,” Pike said. “All schools should be safe. We need safety alternatives. The Safer School Act is an alternative. It is not a mandate.”

Employees of the schools who adopted such a policy would first have to obtain a concealed carry license and then attend a firearms safety class, taught by a certified instructor.

Individuals would be required to pay for all the training and equipment. Local law enforcement would also be informed as to which employees participate in the program.

However, the bill has not moved out of the judiciary committee to the House floor. The deadline is Friday.

“I have heard from hundreds of parents, teachers and school board members from around the state who support my idea,” Pike said. “Unfortunately, Rep. (Jamie) Pedersen (D-Seattle), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is not willing to move this legislation out of his committee. There is only a limited amount of time for legislation to pass through the process and we are near the end of that cycle. If we don’t come up with a better solution to ensure the safety of our children and school teachers, I will introduce this bill again next year. I am looking for solutions.”

Mike Nerland, Camas School District superintendent, said Pike’s efforts are well-intentioned but could actually pose a greater risk for students.

“I certainly agree with Rep. Pike’s statement that ‘all schools should be safe.’ However, as well-intentioned as Rep. Pike’s legislation is, I believe allowing school staff, other than trained security resource officers, would actually put our students at greater risk. The safety of our students is the number one priority for all of us. However, teachers are trained to educate kids.”

He added that the Camas School District would continue to follow current state law, even if the bill was passed.

“With the exception of trained law enforcement officers, such as our school resource officer, Washington state law prohibits guns in schools,” Nerland said. “In partnership with local and state law enforcement agencies, the Camas School District will continue to follow state statute and has no plans of discussing the possibility of allowing employees to bring weapons to school.”

Nerland said that the district has a school resource officer on site everyday, and at many evening activities. In addition, the district has a safety plan in place.

Bryan McGeachy, district operations director, said a school would go into immediate lockdown if an armed intruder gained entry.

“All rooms would be notified by intercom, phone or computer that a lockdown is in place,” he said. “911 will be called and police would respond immediately to any threat. The police, fire, SWAT and other emergency services responses have been planned out in advance for each of our schools in case they are needed. SWAT has practiced in several of our Camas schools for an armed intruder incident.”

In addition, all of the schools have practiced lockdowns which include sweeping hallways for students and staff, locking doors, closing blinds, turning off lights, keeping students down and away from windows and doors and taking count of students. Staff and students are instructed not to go out of the classrooms until the ‘all clear’ code is given.

In addition to being in charge of safety and security for the district, McGeachy is also part of the Clark County Safe Schools Task Force.

“We are always looking for new ways and ideas to improve the security of our students and staff,” he said. “We have implemented several new facility security measures over the past few years. In a lockdown situation, five minutes can be a long time before the police arrive if your room comes under attack. Hopefully, this situation will never occur in our schools but we will do our best to be prepared for any emergency situation.”

Dawn Tarzian, Washougal School District superintendent, said Pike’s bill allowing guns in schools needs thorough study before moving forward.

“Between law enforcement and first responders, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge about the use of firearms,” she said. “Having the training necessary to be at the level of law enforcement in that life-or-death situation would be a challenge. I really see their expertise as being crucial.”

Tarzian added the district has a school resource officer as well as a campus security officer at Excelsior and Washougal high schools, and the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office operates a station out of Cape Horn-Skye Elementary School, which is in a remote location.

“I think it’s a good plan to have law enforcement involved in our schools,” she said. “We have safety measures in place to deal with emergency situations.”

Tarzian recalled in December 2011, when four schools were put on lockdown due to an armed suspect police believed to be at large.

“We still had kids at bus stops,” she said. “We had safety protocols in place and we used them. Everything was locked, the shades were drawn and parents who came to pick up their children were turned away. It was one of the hardest things staff has ever had to do, but necessary.”

In light of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, where 26 children and adults were killed in Newtown, Conn., by an armed gunman, the district has performed a series of emergency lockdown drills and given police additional access to the schools.

However, Pike said that more options are needed for smaller schools which may not have the funds for school resource or security officers.

“The state of Utah allows qualified school personnel to carry concealed weapons in their public schools,” she said. “Since this policy began, there has never been gun violence in any of that state’s public schools. The person who entered Sandy Hook Elementary School last December broke at least eight laws when he committed those terrible crimes. One more law on the books would not have stopped him. Criminals intent on harming innocent victims do not care about gun laws. For this reason, I am morally opposed to any sort of restriction on firearms.”